In Inon Shampanier’s Paper Spiders, protagonist Melanie (Stefania LaVie Owen) tasks herself with keeping a happy home, which seems easy because that home only comprises herself and her mother Dawn (Lili Taylor). One way of bringing that happiness about is making a dating profile for Dawn. The difficulty comes with how both she and Dawn are still reeling from her father and Dawn’s husband’s death. Dawn’s comeback into the dating scene has another complication – she believes that her next door neighbor is trying to follow her and break into her home. That delusion is going to push people away.
Sometimes, film criticism involves the criticism part, an aspect that I treat with less sadism the longer I do this. This is, after all, the passion project of a few people, filmmakers and programmers alike. I bring this up because of the understandable nitpicks against Paper Spiders, specifically in that its attempt to bring something new in depicting mental illness in cinema doesn’t always come out well. This movie has its share of tonal inconsistencies. Some scenes have Melanie speaking like a witty teen and in others it’s a serious drama about a serious issue that affects a lot of people.
Another common complain of mine is how some scripts rush their depictions of supporting characters. That’s especially true with Melanie’s new richer boyfriend (Ian Nelson), whose evolution from John Hughes stereotype to a real person feels half and half. But there are benefits when the movie introduces characters outside of this mother daughter diptych. Melanie, at first, sees Dawn as just quirky, but new perspectives make her realize the gravity of her situation. This film, at its best moments, highlight the festival’s story over everything ethos. This is just one of many stories that many viewers can relate to.